Craig's Movie Breakdown: Olympus Has Fallen


The Lead-up:

“Die Hard” may have stumbled in its fifth entry earlier this year but the formula is still kicking. Sixteen years after Harrison Ford famously bellowed “Get off my plane” in “Air Force One”, the president will be under fire again, twice, in 2013. While we will wait to see how the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx film “White House Down” does this summer, Gerard Butler takes action hero duties here, which has been a more promising scenario (“300”, and both underrated “Machine Gun Preacher” and “Law Abiding Citizen) than some of his other work (“The Ugly Truth”, “The Bounty Hunter”). Perhaps even better though is having Antoine Fuqua behind the camera, a sure-handed action director best known for “Training Day” but with a resume (Bruce Willis’ “Tears of the Sun”, Mark Wahlberg’s “Shooter”, cop drama “Brooklyn’s Finest”) that suggests he should be getting more big action films. “Olympus Has Fallen” was written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, and it is their first screenplay.


The Plot:

Butler plays Mike Banning, a secret service agent relieved from duty after an accident kills a member of the president’s family. Fast forward to 18 months later as a meeting is being held between the President (Aaron Eckhart) and the South Koreans, including the Prime Minister’s head of security (Rick Yune), and a synchronized attack breaks out, leaving the president and many of his cabinet taken hostage until he removes troops from Korea. Mike, being the luckiest bastard alive, manages to get into the White House with only a pistol (while his enemies are carrying heavy automatic weapons) while secret service and various military personnel are dying all around him and get to work securing the presidents son and saving the hostages.



Guns, explosions, and patriotism, three things that will never get old in American film, are on full display in “Olympus”, a movie that gets the action just right but ends up looking like a copy of a copy of a copy. Fuqua stages thrilling and intense sequences, an enemy plane attacking Washington (taking down the Washington Monument along with it) plus a scene featuring a helicopter are breathtakingly realized. There are also some interesting stylistic choices here too, like a battered and torn American flag falling to the ground with a blood-red sunset as a back-drop.

Butler isn’t half bad here either. He doesn’t exactly carry the film with wit and charisma like Guy Pearce did last year in the similarly themed space-Die Hard flick “Lockout” but he’s given a solid back-story that doesn’t lay it on too thick and the role calls for resourcefulness, some crude comedy, and brute violence (including some up-close executions) that he brings across well.

Just the rest is a movie that feels too lazy to really take on a personality of its own. We’ve seen it before, from the over-the-top and one-dimensionally cruel foreign villains, good actors like Angela Basset and Robert Forster, and a great one like Morgan Freeman, given the thankless assignment of being  the government officials who sit around the control room looking forlorn while the hero does all the work, many other action sequences that are the usual gun-battles and fisticuffs with nameless thugs, and the ending introduces a ticking clock counting down to nuclear Armageddon.  There’s even a scene between Butler and Dylan McDermott lifted directly from “Die Hard” just, again, stripped of any real excitement. It’s not that this stuff is so terrible, it’s just too routine to care.  

The only thing that really comes off offensive here is the forced patriotism. Aaron Eckhart, who as a president has been called upon to do nothing before this, gives a speech in the end asserting that everything that happened in this silly, lazy movie is proof that our enemies are just soulless killing machines and everything that we do is for the greater good, cue the waving American flag, fade to black.  If only life were this simple.